The Connection Between The Virtual World & Horse Racing
The Grand National at Aintree is one of the most famous events in the global sporting calendar. A global audience of 650 million tunes in to watch 40 horses slog it out over an epic distance of 4 miles 514 yards. There are 30 brutal fences to be cleared and prize money of £1 million is up for grabs, so it always makes for a thrilling spectacle.
Yet disaster struck this year, as the organisers were forced to cancel the race due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a hammer blow for bookmakers, as it is one of the biggest races of the year for them, alongside the likes of the Kentucky Derby and the Melbourne Cup, another massive horse racing event.
However, instead of wallowing in misery, they responded by staging a virtual Grand National to raise funds for charity. Bookmakers used a Random Number Generator to create the virtual event, and took bets from millions of punters. In the end, it raised £2.6 million for NHS Charities Together. For the record, 18/1 outsider Potters Corner prevailed. “When the nation was in much need of some light relief, millions joined in the fun in honour of one of Britain’s greatest sporting events and helped raise a fantastic amount for our brave heroes in the NHS,” said Michael Dugher, the chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council.
A Strengthening Connection
The virtual Grand National highlighted the growing link between horse racing and the virtual world. The Big Four bookmakers of the United Kingdom – William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Tote – created virtual racing as a way of reducing their dependency on traditional racing and to keep punters interested between live events. It was initially met with widespread derision, but it went on to take the betting world by storm.
Virtual racing is now a fixture at every leading betting site across the world. It has spread to virtual greyhound racing, and you can now bet on virtual greyhounds, plus football, tennis and many more sports.
It is all underpinned by RNG algorithms, which are vetted by leading licensing authorities such as the UK Gambling Commission to ensure they are run fairly. Punters jump up and down with excitement as they watch these virtual races unfold. The graphics have improved tremendously over the past few years, and the overall experience has become a lot more realistic.
There are also various horse racing video games for people to enjoy. Gallop Racer, Starting Orders, Winning Post, G1 Jockey, Melbourne Cup Challenge, Catch Driver, Stable Masters, Derby Owners Club, Off and Pacing, Breeders Cup World Thoroughbred Championships and Computer Nouryoku Kaiseki: Ultra Baken are just some of the exciting racing sims and management sims to delight gamers over the years.
A Wealth of Possibilities
Yet this is only the start. Technological advances are starting to blur the boundaries between horse racing and the virtual world in thrilling ways, Attendees at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg this year were able to try a new virtual reality experience that allowed them to watch a race from the vantage point of the jockey.
The 360-degree virtual reality experience used video footage during actual thoroughbred and harness races in Pennsylvania throughout the previous year. It allowed individuals wearing a VR headset to look left, right, and behind them as they raced against other horses toward the finish line.
“This is our way of bringing the racetrack out to the public and giving them a taste of what it’s like to experience horse racing live and in person,” said Pete Peterson, president of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association. “We are literally putting fans in the saddle or in the driver’s seat and allowing them to experience a race from the perspective of a jockey or driver. It’s unique, exciting, and gives fans a new appreciation of the sport that we hope prompts them to visit one of Pennsylvania’s six racetracks to enjoy the races in person.”
Get in the Race
Racing fans can now experience for themselves the thrill of guiding a top horse around bends and down the home straight in front of a roaring crowd. Yet that technology will soon come on leaps and bounds. Rather than watching footage of old horse races, fans will be able to watch almost every single race live from the viewpoint of the jockey riding a particular horse.
This Get in the Race experience was first unveiled in 2015. It had a few teething problems, and it is still being ironed out, but soon it will be polished, perfected and rolled out across a wide range of racetracks.
VR technology should also allow anyone in the world to feel as though they are attending famous races like the Grand National, the Melbourne Cup and the Kentucky Derby, by walking around a virtual representation of the course using a VR headset, taking a seat in the crowd and watching the actual race take place. It is a brave new world, and the connection between virtual action and real racing will only grow stronger.